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Police chief quits in town board dispute

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MICRO — Citing a lack of support from the Micro Town Council, Police Chief Donna Greene unexpectedly resigned on Jan. 11.

Greene’s resignation came following a disagreement with the board about hiring of a school resource officer for North Johnston Middle School and Micro Elementary School.

Greene became the first female police chief in the history of Johnston County when she began her duties last Aug. 1. Her annual salary was set at $45,000.

Prior to Greene’s hiring, Micro had been without a chief of police or an active police force since former Micro Police Chief Frederick (Rick) Hendren resigned on April 27, 2018.

When hired, Greene, who has been in law enforcement for 20 years, said she wanted Micro residents to know she was passionate about the town and was committed to law enforcement. “I want to be the community chief, the kind that people can come in and feel like I am an extension of their families,” she said at the time.

Two weeks ago, Johnston County Public Schools offered the town of Micro $90,000 for a full-time police officer to be at North Johnston Middle School and Micro Elementary School.

“When I presented the proposal to the board, they did not approve it, saying there was too much civil liability involved and they wanted to ask the school board for more money,” said Greene. “I cannot tell you how disappointed I was. I had an officer ready to step in even though he knew it may be only for two years. The town board did not even ask me my thoughts or how I planned to make it happen.”

Greene said when she was hired, she was told to build up the police department with the help of grants.

“We had a grant here that was practically laid in our lap and would not have cost the town anything,” said Greene. “There was nothing in the contract that was unusual,. All they asked was to make sure we had police protection.”

Micro Commissioner Jay Langston, who oversees the police department, said the board viewed the situation differently.

“When you put officers in the schools, there is a lot of liability and they have to make sure they are doing everything right,” said Langston. “We see footage on the TV news every night taken by students with their phones showing officers slamming students to the ground. We did not feel at this time that we could afford that.”

Langston said an earlier issue might have contributed to Greene’s decision.

“At the November town board meeting, Chief Greene brought the town dog ordinance before the board and asked for it to be changed so she could have more control over the dogs in town,” said Langston. “The board did not act but asked that she gather information from surrounding towns to see how they handled dog issues.”

According to Langston, Greene wanted an immediate decision but the board required more information. When commissioners didn’t act, Langston said the chief was visibly upset.

“I took this job here because I love this town and I want to thank everyone for supporting me,” said Greene. “I just wanted to be here to make the town shine and to ensure citizens that they can sleep well at night. I am not bitter or mad at all, just very disappointed that this Micro must do without.”

Greene still lives in Micro and said although she has already found other employment, she would not rule out returning to her job as police chief.

“I would love to come back and continue what I started here, but I stand fast in putting an officer in our schools,” said Greene. “Too many of our children are falling prey to bullies and school shootings and I hope the town understands the liability of having the opportunity to protect our children in the school but choosing not to do it because of greed.”

Greene said there are three schools within a three-mile radius and they need all the protection available.

“I will not compromise on school safety,” said Greene.

Greene said she feels she is leaving the police department better off than how she found it.

“I just cannot do this difficult and stressful job with my hands tied,” said Greene. “A chief needs to be able to make decisions that will move his or her department forward.

“Micro is going to continue having a cycle of police chief after police chief unless they understand that the policing should be left to the police chief. The town board is made up of good people, but they need to let the chief make police decisions.”

Langston said the town had been happy with the job Greene was doing and she had fit in well prior to her resignation.

“The town will begin the search for a new chief in the near future, but in the meantime, the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office will be handling law enforcement in Micro on an interim basis,” said Langston.

The school resource officers are provided with a state-funded grant in partnership with Johnston County municipalities. According to school system spokeswoman Crystal Roberts, a number of new officers will join Johnston County Public Schools as the grant is fulfilled. But Micro isn’t the only town that’s expressed concern over liability issues.

At the Dec. 11 Selma Town Council meeting, Councilwoman Ann Williams, a former deputy school superintendent, questioned both the cost and the liability clause in the contract provided by the school district.

The contract states that the “Board of Education assumes no liability for any act of omission that would ever arise in the School Resource Officer’s performance or non-performance of his duties.”

Instead of approving the contract, the council authorized Williams to draft a letter to the school board requesting additional funds and clarification.